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1989: A brief lyrical analysis

| Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I had zero intention of writing about Taylor Swift this week. Nevertheless, after walking through Breen-Phillips Hall and hearing various tracks off her new album booming from multiple rooms, I decided if there’s ever a time to write about T-Swift in your college newspaper, this is it.

“1989” is like nothing we’ve heard from Taylor before, as the album takes on a total 80s vibe. Though synthesizers and a foreign electric feel characterize each track, Swift’s lyrics still possess that straight-from-the-diary sensation. While some claim to be completely turned off by Taylor new sound, it’s hard to argue that this artist isn’t still the queen of narrative lyricism.

Swift has mastered the ability to capture the sensation of a moment within her universally-relatable verses and refrains. How many teenage girls do you think, upon hearing “She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” for the first time, thought, “wow, that’s totally me”? Is there anybody on this earth that can listen to “Never Grow Up” without tearing up? The openness with which Taylor writes allows us to see bits of ourselves within different songs, while applying her pertinent lyrics to our own lives. This, I believe, is where Taylor finds the most success as an artist.

Therefore, upon listening to “1989,” I could not help but tune into the lyrics of every verse. The words to all 14 tracks pulled up on my desktop, I explored the many layers of Swift’s lyrics — what exactly is she getting at in “Clean,” what story is she trying to tell in “Bad Blood?” These questions have been on the forefront of my mind, perhaps more than they should be.

After detailed track-by-track analysis, I’ve noticed Taylor’s fifth album creates somewhat of a storyline, highlighting her experiences and sentiments as she explores the city of New York. In fact, Taylor is so pumped about being in a new city that she can’t even find the words to express her excitement. Literally, all she really says in track one is “Welcome to New York” over and over again! “It’s a new soundtrack,” the pop star sings. In essence, this lyric captures the metamorphosis she’s experiencing as a singer and individual. Taylor is living in a new place and exploring a new genre. She leaves her cowboy boots and acoustic guitar behind, preparing to explore the unknown.

Taylor seems to have officially put her angst-y, it’s-not-me-it’s-you songs to rest. None of this album’s lyrics particularly dwell on the star’s break-up woes like what we’ve seen in the past.  In contrast to previous tracks such as “Forever and Always,” the songs on “1989” approach heartbreak much more casually. Many of Taylor’s new lyrics emphasize this underlying idea of “you win some, but you lose most in the game of love.” Taylor applies this new spirit of indifference towards all the negative influences in her life as well. This is perhaps most prominent in “Shake It Off,” in which Tay-Tay asserts she’s going to brush off “the liars and dirty, dirty cheats of the world” and just do her own thing.

The alternative culture of NYC’s vast hipster population has definitely influenced the singer, as abstract imagery is rather prominent throughout her lyrics. Listen to “Out of the Woods” and you’ll hear exactly what I mean — metaphoric language everywhere! Further, in several tracks we hear Taylor experiment with vocal sounds in an alternative fashion. For example, in “Wildest Dreams,” she makes a breathy sigh (somewhat resonant of a whale call) that’s arguably the most non-mainstream thing I’ve ever heard.  If lyrics and music alone don’t sell you on Swift’s new fondness of counter-culture, just take a look at her album design. It presents Swift in a vintage Polaroid frame with a filter I don’t even think is available on Instagram.

I urge you to explore the lyrics of “1989” on your own if you have not yet done so — it makes for some great entertainment. However, in your lyrical analysis I suggest digging deeper than just identifying which past love interest Taylor alludes to in each track. Seriously, there is so much more to this artist’s songs than just pinpointing the fact that she’s writing about a measly boy band singer with a butterfly tatted to his chest.  

That said, I think there are a lot of Harry Style references to be acknowledged. Track two, “Blank Space,” is definitely about him, as Taylor sings, “I can read you like a magazine.” That boy’s body is covered in ink.

Paige Affinito is a junior accounting and English major. She has found that humor is much easier to capture in 140 characters than in 700 words. She can be reached at paffinit@nd.edu 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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